Filed under: e-learning, Educational Change, Learning Gateways, Learning Platform, SharePoint
Over the last decade we have seen an enormous growth in use of technology within education. From the use of laptops and digital projectors to smartboards and VLE’s all of which have been aimed at improving learning. As a relatively new teacher I was shown my first ever VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) in early 2004, a moodle system which we began to use at my second school. We often joked that as teachers we sat spellbound by a flash animation as the presenter seemed to promise us that the system would cure all educational problems and perhaps world famine at the same time. Previous blog posts have covered the features of a VLE and if you are unfamiliar with them you can catch up here and see the diagram below.
Since this time I have moved on to a third school and was involved in the original development of the SharePoint Learning Platform which has developed a significant reputation at Twynham School. You will notice the change in terminology and Tony Parkin once commented to me that over a number of years from 2007 the term VLE fell off the ICT Register tag cloud as the term Learning Platform rose to the top. Why did the idea of the VLE lose popularity? The original vision of a system which could assign track and grade assessment has proven largely elusive beyond predominantly simple ‘multiple choice’ and’true/false’ style questions to identify understanding. As a result educators have created a vision for a Learning Platform which contains a VLE but at the same time carries a wider range of other learning attributes which centre around the platform. The diagram showing a SharePoint Learning Platform can be seen below and has more detail about it is in the blog post here.
Amidst all this development and millions of pounds of investment within schools a key question is increasingly being asked. What has the impact been on learning? In the case of Twynham School we have certainly seen a positive impact through the Learning Platform. Students describe the availability of resources in an ‘anytime, anywhere’ environment as a real benefit to learning and especially revision. Our SharePoint 2010 Learning Platform also contains a rich range of features from streaming media and podcasting to rewards systems, performance tracking and integrated learning modules. Our work with the Learning Platform over the last 4 years has undoubtedly added value to our school community and supported learners with resources, input and guidance. Despite this over the last 18 months there has been an increasing view that it is time for us to move beyond this current work and begin a new adaptation of our online learning model with a renewed focus.
Having spent considerable time on this line of thinking a blog post popped up on the radar late last week which helped clarify our thinking. The post from big think reflected on the 2011 K-12 Horizon report and challenged the level of percieved progress we have made with our use of technology and its impact on learning. In the second half of the post it identifies something we know to be true: most of the investment in technology made in education has been in the area of ‘replicative technologies’. These are commonly technology tools which are teacher centric and replace traditional educational practice. The list of replicative technologies in the blog post is worth repeating here as it does bring the context into stark focus:
In the case of our Learning Platform we can certainly see elements of replicative behaviour as paper resources move to the file share and then to the subject gateways of the SharePoint Learning Platform. So is this all doom and gloom? As the post goes on to say the move to replicative technologies is an understandable first step for educators who move educational practice to technology in a way which is most familiar to them. The key challenge for us all at this moment is best summed up at the end of the post. In it the author rightly asserts that, ‘ The question is whether educator adoption of replicative technologies eventually will lead to more transformative, student-centered uses of digital learning tools or whether the current wave of educator tool usage simply will be replaced by whatever is the next generation of replicative technologies’.
Refelcting on these ideas it is clear to see that the best practive we currently identify by those at the cutting edge of technology use within education has one key attribute in common: it is student centric. It is for this reason that we should all ensure our VLE’s, MLE’s Learning Platforms, Learning Gateways and whatever it is we want to call them increasingly become one thing. A personal learning environment where students can add, edit, tag, comment, search, share and review their learning. This is surely the reason behind our use of technology within education: to promote independance and interdependance amongst learners and instant interaction and feedback with students and teachers to ensure we are engaging in meaningful learning.
As we head to the weekend I thought it would be useful to link up the posts I have been writing over the last two weeks on VLEs, MLEs and SharePoint 2010 as a Learning Platform. So far we are 12 posts in to the 15 post series and you can get all the links to each post below. Posts 13-15 will continue into the next week.
Post 1 What is a VLE?
Post 5 What is an MLE?
Post 13 Features of a SharePoint Learning Platfom The Power of Searcch (3 of 3)
Post 14 Features of a SharePoint Learning Platfom- Social Features
Post 15 Where to find more
Another feature of a SharePoint Learning Platform is the integration of a VLE. The most common and best integrated solution for SharePoint is the SLK or SharePoint Learning Kit. This is currently being upgraded by the SLK co-coordinator Richard Willis for SharePoint 2010 and should be available in August.
At Twynham School we use an authoring tool called Author Expert which I will be covering in greater detail next week but here are some screenshots of what is possible. The first shows the ability to integrate images into the scorm resource. As well as this you can embed flash files, audio and video files as well as word and PowerPoint files for a rich media experience.
In addition to creating instructional elements to deliver to learners it is possible to compile a range of quizzes and tests which can be delivered, completed, marked and reviewed. The image below shows a Multiple Choice and Multiple Selection example.
As a final example, with high quality authoring tools it is possible to create a wide range of question types to vary assessment and reflection. Below the image shows a drag and drop exercise which is completed at the end of a unit to demonstrate understanding.
There is of course much more to say about the VLE potential within a SharePoint Learning Platform and I intend the devote most of next week to covering the SLK and particularly authoring tools.
As I have been working through this series I had contact from SharePoint MVP Alex Pearce who I have worked with for over three years. He works directly in education on Local Authority wide projects and has recently been writing about VLEs, Learning Gateway and Learning Platforms. As I was writing a series on SharePoint in Education he kindly offered to add his own thoughts based on his experience.
Alex Pearce writes his own blog which can be found here
Guest post by SharePoint MVP Alex Pearce
In recent months I have had numerous discussions about what the differences are between a Virtual Learning Environment, a Learning Gateway and a Learning Platform. Other conversations I have had is ‘what should I name my environment?’ So what is the difference?
A Virtual Learning Environment is a teaching tool that can assist you in your lessons from assigning a piece of work to it being a whole topic or course.
With past experience I have used SharePoint Learning Kit as a single file delivery tool. Of course like any other VLEs, SharePoint Learning Kit can assign the documents to the Learner at the selected time and also auto mark the SCORM file quiz you have created. As an addition to SharePoint Learning Kit, there is the SLK Course Builder that lets you assign a whole set of documents over time.
A great example of this was a school I saw using Moodle. Due to the lack of demand they couldn’t get a full class of students for Religious Studies, so they created a course in Moodle where they assigned the work throughout the year. Unfortunately they still had to have 4 lessons throughout the year after school as the exam board required a discussion/debate as part of the curriculum. The great news for the school was that all the students passed the GCSE with an A* to C. The school also decided through consultation with students that they would do all this work after school so it would allow the students to do an additional GCSE if they choose to. This also meant they had another 30 students take the Religious Studies GCSE.
So a Virtual Learning Environment is a teaching tool for your lessons and courses.
Learning Gateway is a framework and management tool for your school. There are no right and wrong ways of creating your Learning Gateway but the idea is to publish all the computer based data through a single portal.
As you can see from the diagram above there are some fundamental elements of a Learning Gateway. The main point from this is that everything is published through a single portal and even though these elements are separate in the image above, they can connect and migrate between each of them.
A Learning Gateway doesn’t have to have a single VLE, it can have multiple solutions. You should have the right products for the right lesson or course you want to deliver to your students. Is there one VLE out there that can do everything for every teacher in their school?
The gradebook feature of your VLE is essential to ensure your parents can access the right data about the progress of their pupils. This can be presented in your VLE along with the parent handbook/policies, recent school newsletters, parent calendar and other information that changes frequently for the parents. They have their own username and password and collect the information that is provided from the school MIS database such as their childs timetable, attendance. This is what the portal layer of the Learning Gateway will present. The gradebook should also allow teaching staff and senior leaders to monitor the progress of students in a simple and easy way.
A Learning Gateway is a document management solution for your school, your policies and management documents but also your curriculum resource that your students can log onto to access.
While working at Great Barr School we implemented a Governors portal which allowed them to have access to a secure email server that they could email sensitive information to each other within a secure environment. During a conversation with the Chair of the Governors he said that they spent the first 2 hours reading documents about students before getting down to business. Having implemented this into the school for these key stake holders, they were able to read a document and make point about them in their collaboration meeting so their meetings became more productive and less time consuming.
A Learning Gateway incorporates all your internal services within your school into a single portal for all your stakeholders.
A Learning Platform is where you take a Learning Gateway to the next step. In the image above we show all the internal services at the schools. A Learning Platform incorporates all the external services as well. These services can come from your Local Authority, the local government or other cloud based solutions. What we want to achieve is a single place of all content, with a single sign on and a centralised search so the end user can find the learning resources they need for that lesson.
We also have a centralised taxonomy so all the schools in that Learning Platform tags their resources with the same term it allows collaboration between schools, staff and students. This is where the search comes into play even more to allow more resources available to the teacher and student.
For an effective Learning Platform a Country wide taxonomy is required so external services from government agencies such as the Department of Education and Partnership for schools have their resources tagged with the same tags as the learning resources within a school. This could be taken into a worldwide education taxonomy allowing international schools to search resources in other country and then adding the different languages for the same work can benefit students who don’t speak English as a their main language.
The image below is taken from a presentation I have given a few times about Learning Platforms. It shows how external services can be integrated into a single user experience that is not just for the schools but potentially for the whole school district. Under pinning all of these is the taxonomy and search.
A fully integrated Learning Platform can only be achieved when all parties have their services available in the Learning Platform in the same standard as all the others.
One key element to a Learning Platform that pulls in many services is the Identity Management Solutions also known as IdM. When a user navigates from the portal layer into the city library website the user should be given an experience that suites their need such as books that are relevant to their age. Many of these systems will require a user to authenticate but this is where the IdM and single sign on solutions plays in and allows students to move seamlessly between websites giving them learning resources they actually need.
Another key element is the MIS (the school Management Information System) as many schools will need to import/export information with the Learning Platform as well as present information to the learner, teacher, school and the local authority. A standard of exporting data is required (such as SIF http://www.sifinfo.org) to allow data about the learner to move to and from but also including grades they have achieved in the VLE so they can be used to generate reports and pass these to other agencies. With the correct trend analysis of these grades a user can start to learn individually with the Learning Platform auto assigning work to the learner based on their skill across all subjects, giving the best, individual learning program to a student.
So what is a Learning Platform? A Learning Platform incorporates all internal services and external services a school can use into a single portal allowing the user to search from one location and find the most relevant learning resource they need at that time.
Over the last two days we have been looking at the ideas behind VLEs and MLEs with the following posts if you want to catch up.
Post 1 What is a VLE?
This leads us to the idea of a Learning Platform- what is it? I have a third diagram to illustrate what a Learning Platform is which has be generously provided by my good friend Alex Pearce.
Looking at the diagram you can see that a Learning Platform contains a VLE and you may think it is actually no different from an MLE. All the interoperability of an MLE is in evidence here with the various databases connecting up but a Learning Platform moves beyond and MLE in three ways.
Surfacing of information
The real beauty of a Learning Platform which I think many people have missed is the ability to surface vast amounts of data from disparate sources. Again you may think this is simply what an MLE will do but the crucial difference is the end user experience where they view and use all data within the Learning Platform. Whereas many educationalists saw the Learning Platform as being a feature rich resource it is simply a platform on which to create feature rich functionality. The key here is the potential for integration and as one end user once described, ‘a one stop shop for everything I need to do’.
Metadata and Taxonomy
Another key distinction for a Learning Platform can be seen in the green and blue wrappers around the diagram. The real power of a Learning Platform is the ability to collect, sort, index and aggregate data. Although people get hung up about what metadata is it can simply be described as the contextual information about your SharePoint content which can inform us about the subject, audience, author and intent of the data. In an educational context this is one of the most underused features of a Learning Platform but the ability to create metadata and integrate multiple sources of external data becomes a killer feature when you can….
One of the biggest challenges within an institution is the fine line between being data rich and having data overload. The final wrapper in a Learning Platform is the ability to search all of your content whether native to SharePoint or from an external database. Once your SharePoint content is tagged with metadata this of course becomes even more powerful and indexing within documents allows for a very powerful search experience.
In the first 4 posts of this series so far we have covered what a VLE is, what common features it has (see here and here) and reasons why educational institutions should consider implementation.
Following on from this I wanted to look at the differences between a VLE and what we call an MLE or Managed Learning Environment. Perhaps the best way to start looking at the differences is to look at the diagram below.
Image taken from the Excellence Gateway here
A Managed Learning Environment moves beyond thinking about a learning system to thinking about the operation of the whole educational institution. The primary focus is on the development of interoperability between all systems so that the institution is fully connected online. Whereas an MLE will have a VLE it is not the whole part of the environment. At the same time one of the key elements of the MLE will be to connect the VLE with other aspects of the institutions online environment such as the MIS (Management Information System).
From both the institutional, tutor and learner perspective an MLE is an important development for a number of reasons. The institution has a quick and easy grasp of number of learners on roll and can integrate supplementary information on drop out rates comparing them with the nature of the learners and other associated information. The tutor can monitor the progress of the learners through the learning modules and at the same time supplement this with wider information about the learner from different sources. Finally an MLE helps to create a learner centred environment where the learner has quick and easy access to all the information they need to support their study.
As a result the main advantages of implementing an MLE are:
- Streamlining of learning resources for students and staff.
- Instant Access to a rich range of data through one interface which can be accessed remotely.
- Greater capacity for data exchange between individual silos within an organisation.
- This in turn can massively reduce the administration burden.
- Reduction in costs and efficiencies through streamlined processes and interoperability.
- Potential to attract a different client base through new methodologies and distance learning.
- De Montfort University demonstrated that an MLE can lead to lower drop out rates.